Story and photos by
Staff Sgt. Nesha Humes Stanton
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It was 1944 and the U.S. was in the height of World War II when a B-24 Liberator plummeted to the ground after being shot down. The crew bailed out onto enemy territory, leaving the surviving Airmen to be captured and detained.
Paul Airey, the Liberator’s aerial gunner, was one of them.
Airey endured 10 months as a prisoner of war, and was among few who survived dysentery, exhaustion and starvation, while being forced to march 400 miles across Germany during one of the coldest winters in history.
The British eventually rescued Airey and the other POWs. Airey persevered to continue his story.
The combat veteran regained his strength, and went on to serve as a first sergeant, personnel sergeant major, and in 1967, he was hand-selected as the first chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
Kaiserslautern Military Community members commemorated Airey, and his resilience during the Fourth Annual Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Paul Airey Memorial Ruck on Ramstein Air Base, May 29.
“Today, you did more than just remember, you did more than post a somber message on social media,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Merriman, 86th Maintenance Squadron superintendent. “Today, you chose to remember through your personal efforts — building resiliency through fitness, both mental and physical — and through fellowship with your brothers and sisters in arms.”
With the help of about 50 volunteers, more than 500 participants lined up to ruck, run, and walk various distances for the event.
“The event is a huge success; every year it’s a huge success,” said Robert Lovett, 603rd Air Operations Center facility manager. “The turnout is great, the weather is great, we’re having a great time.”
Lovett said he hopes the attendees gain some history on Chief Airey and the importance of us being here in Europe.
“We have a reason for being in Germany and that’s to defend the U.S. and our allies. It stems all the way back to the second world war and our presence here,” Lovett continued.
Merriman concluded with closing remarks and stated: “Today, you challenged yourselves to build teams, you fought through adversity and focused on the task at hand, all with Chief Master Sgt. Paul Airey’s memory cheering you on, believing in you and your team… We choose to remember Chief Airey [with this ruck] as his legacy is more relevant now, than ever.”
Airey passed away in 2009, yet his legacy and story of courage lives on.